Part 2—Where does Dr. Luntz find them: Last night, we liberals were given a good warm feeling at the start of the Maddow Show.
Results were in concerning the State of the Union Address. Right at the start of the program, we were helped to understand that the results were incredibly good:
MADDOW (/1/25/12): All right. And thanks to you at home for staying with us for the next hour.“Here’s something you don’t see ever,” Maddow said, sharing the sky-high approval numbers for Obama’s proposals.
Here’s something you don’t see ever. This was— Look, this was posted by CBS News, by their polling unit! CBS was polling approval or disapproval of the proposals made by President Obama in his State of the Union speech last night.
Poll results like this aren’t usually found in nature. But this was apparently the response. If you can’t see it there, the disapproval rate was 9 percent, and the approval rate was 91 percent.
“Poll results like this aren’t usually found in nature,” Maddow said—and her statement was technically accurate. But results like that are frequently found after a State of the Union Address. Here was Maddow, one year ago, providing the same warm feeling:
MADDOW (1/26/11): Halfway through Barack Obama’s first term, his State of the Union address last night is being pretty universally hailed as centrist, as not too liberal, not too conservative, but right down the middle of American politics. And that is something that Americans like to hear.You never see it—except once a year!
The instant reaction polls to President Obama’s speech last night were almost comically positive. CBS reported that 92 percent of the people who watched the speech approved of Mr. Obama`s proposals, 92! CNN reporting that 84 percent of people had a positive response.
Those sorts of numbers do not happen in politics! Those are crazy numbers.
“Those sorts of numbers do not happen in politics,” Rachel told us last year. This year, she was amazed by the CBS numbers all over again! “Poll results like this aren’t usually found in nature,” she exclaimed this time around. We liberals got the same feeling we got last year—and we maybe got conned just a tad.
This is one of the services rendered on partisan cable “news” shows.
Last year, we checked past polling results for State of the Union Addresses. It turned out that data like these are pretty much the norm when we the people watch our presidents render their annual address (see THE DAILY HOWLER, 1/27/11). We took the trouble to point this out—but our efforts were all for naught. Last night, Rachel was mega-surprised again, just as she had been last year!
(Last year, we didn't post the numbers we found. We suggested you do a quick search.)
This is the way of partisan cable. Indeed, if we liberals got a thrill up the leg as we watched Rachel exult last night, conservatives had been well-served the night before as they watched Sean Hannity’s show, with Frank Luntz’s focus group.
Luntz’s voters were not in step with those CBS numbers. Early on, the doctor said that 15 of his 27 subjects had voted for Obama in 2008. But few of them seemed to be inclined to vote for Obama again. No tape of this session is on-line at Fox. But working from the Nexis transcript, these are the first reactions the good Dr. Luntz adduced:
LUNTZ (1/24/12): If you were to give the American people a single sentence to describe what you thought of the speech, what would it be?We don’t know how Luntz came up with this brood. But it looks like the folk at CBS News don’t have their phone numbers!
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The same old rhetoric that comes out of every State of the Union speech.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I want to see leadership to deliver on the rhetoric.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I heard the same thing and the same passions I heard throughout his campaign, and at every other State of the Union. I don't believe it anymore.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was dark and divisive. It was not for me.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I appreciated the fact that he honored and remembered our troops.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was contradictory.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: He was in full-on campaign mode.
Who knows where such focus groups come from? That said, we were most impressed by these voters’ reactions to one particular part of the speech. After a commercial break, Dr. Luntz played a bit of tape, then asked a key question:
LUNTZ: Sean, I want to go right now to a clip about fairness because the president talked about it several times tonight and he's going to do it again and again between now and Election Day. This is a very divisive clip about the principle of fairness. Let's take a look.“Everyone plays by the same set of rules?” As it turned out, lots of folk were against that there! (Luntz had called this “a very divisive clip” based on the group’s electronic reactions during the actual speech.)
OBAMA (videotape): We can either settle for a country where a shrinking number of people do really well while a growing number of Americans barely get by. Or we can restore an economy where everyone gets a fair shot and everyone does their fair share and everyone plays by the same set of rules.
(APPLAUSE ON TAPE)
LUNTZ: “Everyone plays by the same set of rules. Everyone plays by the same set of rules.” Who is against that here?
Dr. Luntz chided his subjects for their negative reactions. For ourselves, we were struck by how weak the intellectual skills of some of us the people can be. We were also struck by the fury, which would be more clear on the tape:
UNIDENTIFIED MALE (continuing directly): It's not true. He says everyone plays by the same set of rules, and the tax credit is for you, and the tax breaks are for you, it's— He singled out everybody.If memory serves (there is no tape), the second “unidentified male” was one of the actual Obama supporters. But that first unidentified female could tell that Obama was speaking in code.
LUNTZ: What's the issue? I don't get it.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Nonetheless, there were loads of scoundrels and cheats particularly in the financial system and the system has not been fair, it has been rigged. And it needs to be improved. It cannot be fixed perfectly but it needs to be improved.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You can't make life fair. Life is not fair. And there's no way to do it. And that's really code for what the president is saying. And I think it's just—he's just talking socialism again. And economically—
LUNTZ: Wait, wait, wait!
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: He's asking for fairness of outcome, not opportunity.
LUNTZ: Hold on! He says everyone gets a fair shot, everyone does their fair share, and everyone plays by the same set of rules. What is the problem with that?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: How can the expectation be that we play by the same set of rules when government doesn't?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And I don't think you can talk about fairness and having a fair share and working the same when you're giving people, you're holding hands and you're giving people too many opportunities.
Hannity viewers are skilled with code. Our side is skilled with whistles.
In fairness, a few of Hannity’s helpers groped toward statements which made internal sense. For example, the last man seemed to be saying that Obama’s actions don’t match that rhetoric, given the fact that he has been “giving people too many opportunities.” But the fury which boiled up was striking—and many of the reactions didn’t make real clear sense.
In fairness, these are regular voters; these people aren’t professional pundits or analysts. You can’t expect average voters to express themselves with as much clarity as the lofty professionals will. That said, we were struck throughout by the fury which boiled from this group, more than half of whom were said to have voted for Obama. Here’s what happened when Hannity suggested a question for those voters—a clownishly leading question:
HANNITY: I'd like to ask the group this question. When they go back to 2008 and, and the soaring rhetoric and he was going heal the planet, “yes, we can,” and all the excitement. I call it Obama-mania.So it says on the transcript. We wish we could show you the tape.
Three years later, $5 trillions of new debt, unemployment is not fixed. The country I don't believe has come back. I mean what are the— Has he failed or has he succeeded and what do they think about the money that he spent, the debt he has taken on, more than any other president in history?
LUNTZ: Let's ask the question of Obama people. You voted for him.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes.
LUNTZ: Why did you vote for him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for him because I felt this country needed a totally different path. I did feel that I had gotten a lot of good speeches.
LUNTZ: And did you get what you're expecting?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Absolutely not! Totally opposite!
LUNTZ: You voted for him?
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I voted for him, and I believe that at the time there was change and he supports our military. My brother was killed in Afghanistan. So for me tonight he provided what I needed.
LUNTZ: You voted for him. Did you get what you're expecting?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I did not.
LUNTZ: Why not?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Because he is going back to the same old thing that happened before. He wants to blame the rich and just—
LUNTZ: Did you find him to be divisive tonight, yes or no?
LUNTZ: Did you find him to be polarizing tonight, yes or no?
Hannity’s clownishly leading question produced some angry retorts. Meanwhile, the cable gods looked down in pleasure over the past two nights. Dr. Luntz had a focus group which seemed very angry with Obama. At the same time, Dr. Maddow had poll results which amazed her all over again.
Back to Hannity's herd:
What do those angry voters think? What do they think Obama has done? What are the particulars behind their obvious fury? What do they think when they hear Newt Gingrich insult Obama as the “food stamp president?” What do they think Obama has done in that particular area?
We would like to see such voters interviewed by Rachel or by Ed, who does know how to speak with respect to average folk of the other tribe. No handful of voters can represent the understandings of the full electorate, or of any segment of same. But our side’s viewers got conned a tad last night, as their side’s viewers got conned a bit one night before.
What do voters think about x, y and z? Our side doesn’t seem very curious.
Tomorrow: The Washington Post and the Palmetto State 3